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Fart Breath. That’s What We’ve Come To.
Zombies. Once almost exclusively the property of George Romero and more than a handful of Italian guys, zombie flicks have saturated the landscape of horror over the last decade or so. Possibly “over-saturated”. With the rise in popularity of the sub-genre stemming from the cultural phenomena that is The Walking Dead, zombie flicks are now being churned out at an unprecedented rate. It might not be fair to say that zombie films are now “a dime a dozen”, but as the multitude of bargin bin DVD multi-movie collections found on the shelves of every store from Walmart to Dollar General to even your corner gas station prove, they’re closer to $3 a dozen.
It takes a lot for a zombie film to get noticed these days. You usually need a “name”. Someone who will draw people’s attention, even if that attention comes in the form of morbid curiosity. “Hey, I didn’t even know Jimmie Walker was still alive!“. Sometimes you just need to have a name that sounds like another known film/television property. “The Walking Deceased“? God love ’em for not even trying.
Sometimes you just have to have the faintest semblance to something else that’s “trending”. Something that is a “hot topic” in the conversations of your now targeted audience. See what I did there?
Wyrmwood comes to us from Australian director Kiah Roache-Turner. As the film features quite a bit of driving and a lot of Aussie accents (as well as a few pieces of body armor), some critic made the comment that the film was like “Mad Max meets Dawn of the Dead“. This was an ideal quote to market the film with as it rode the “heat of the moment” of Mad Max: Fury Road‘s recent release. And now I have Asia stuck in my head.
The film revolves around adult siblings, Barry and Brooke. Barry (Jay Gallagher) is a blue-collar mechanic, as well as husband and father. After being forced to kill his zombified family, he sets out to find his missing sister. And no, I didn’t spoil anything by revealing that his family is dead. His first line of dialogue in the film is him telling us that he shot them with a nailgun that morning. So, yeah. No spoiler here.
The film then returns to before Barry has killed his family to focus on Brooke. Brooke (Bianca Brady) is an artist. At least, I think she is. As the film opens, she is air brushing a model into a living Dia de Muertos-themed Monster High doll. The model goes all zombo for no specified reason, forcing Brooke to hide in the rafters while it attacks and kills her photographer. While she’s up there, she calls her brother and warns him to flee for safety out of the city. Soon after, a roving military unit arrives, gunning down the zombies and taking Brooke captive.
Barry’s daughter alerts he and his wife to a stranger in their kitchen. They dispatch the zombie invader and flee the house. There must have been some sort of previous outbreak. That, or Barry is a survivalist who is just readily prepared for the apocalypse because they leave the house wearing gas masks and armed with nail guns and other household tools to use for defense. The family manages to reach the car and drive away without being bitten, but the contagion is soon revealed to be airborne when Barry’s wife and daughter start to “turn” regardless. I’m less than 600 words into this review, so I still don’t feel that I spoiled anything by telling you that Barry kills them.
Brooke soon finds herself the prisoner of a deranged doctor who subjects her to a series of mysterious painful injections. His previous test subjects are now zombies that he keeps strapped to the walls of the confined space he occupies in the back of the “military” unit’s vehicle. The Doctor is obviously supposed the be a key stylistic element to Wyrmwood. This is made apparent not only from the decision to make him look deranged with glasses with multiple lenses and the containment suit that he wears, but past that, there isn’t much to the character. The Doctor gets a moment to dance around like he was in a Six Flags commercial, but that’s about it. That’s the depth of this character. The fact that the character is actually called “The Doctor” further illustrates the amount of thought put into it. It’s the same type of character that you’ve seen Matt Frewer (Max Headroom, The Stand) do better dozens of times.
Barry begins his search for his sister, teaming with various other survivors along the way. Most of the other characters are nothing more that excuses to propel the movie from scene to scene. This is unfortunate as I found every one of the supporting characters infinitely more intriguing than the siblings. There’s a subplot involving the use of zombie breath as a source of fuel. It’s as ludicrous as it sounds and degenerates into a few lame “mouth farting” jokes. The breath is displayed by use of the worst CG effect in the entire movie.
Brooke spends the bulk of her screen time trying to escape from The Doctor’s clutches with the use of some not fully disclosed form of telepathy with the zombies. This is one of a few factors that sometimes leads the film into Resident Evil territory. As I’m not a fan of those films, this element did not impress me.
Wyrmwood features loads of the stylized action sequences found in most newer movies, but it chooses to follow a continuous pattern of “brief dialog explaining the back story of a character that won’t see the ending, zombie attack, rinse, repeat”. This makes the film feel very monotonous. The film is also fairly uneven in its tone as some of the character deaths are handled with a heavy sense of sentimentality, but soon have that moment ruined with piss jokes and mouth farts.
The film devolves into a comic book movie by the finale, but it also grinds to a screeching thud, limping its way through the final minutes. This just proves that sometimes it’s hard to end a film when it never really had a “story” to tell. Instead, we get 15 minutes of drudgery, including a rambling speech from a non-essential villain. Wyrmwood leaves itself open for a sequel, which seems odd since this first entry is happy to just kick the tires.
Wyrmwood tries to be action-heavy zombie killing fun, and for the most part it is. However, by now I have become fairly desensitized by most newer zombie flicks. They’ve become SyFy/Chiller “movie of the week” material. Wrymwood is better than most of those. The gore is prominent, but never oppressive. There are plenty of juicy headshots on display. There are arguably too many as they fail to illicit much emotional reaction after about 50 of them or so. CG looks impressive in some scenes and completely tacked on in others.
In watching Wyrmwood, I kept thinking that this is a movie that I would have loved when I was 14. Granted, that would have been 1990 when there weren’t 5,000 other zombie films being released at the same time, but it’s just bloody enough and silly enough to have entertained a younger, less-jaded me. And maybe that’s the ideal audience for Wyrmwood. Younger horror fans may enjoy the film as a quick, head-poppin’ ride, although with an “R” rating, they’ll need permission from Mom & Dad first. (Don’t do that, kids! Your parents never did.) Horror fans looking for anything with “depth” should look elsewhere.